So far this year the NHS has been under a lot of scrutiny. The Francis Report, published in mid-February detailed the failings of NHS managers at Mid Staffordshire hospital that led to between 400 and 1,200 deaths in five years. Last week, the Medical Protection Society announced that the number of medico-legal claims against GPs is currently the highest that it has ever been and has risen by 40% in 2012. The society also explained that GPs were ‘more likely to be sued than ever before’.
The MPS have also seen a rise in the values of the claims. With some injury cases like brain damage and a mis-diagnosis of meningitis being settled for a colossal £6m, this is up by around £1.5m of what it was a few years ago. The legal fees have also rocketed to around 5 or 10 times the amount of the compensation of lower value negligence claims, the MPS believe that the rise of ‘no-win, no-fee’ opportunities could have helped contribute to the rise. A number of newspaper articles have started to popularise the terms ‘blame culture’ and ‘claim culture’, highlighting this dramatic surge in the number of cases.
Last year the NHS paid out a huge £15.7bn in clinical negligence claims and this worked out to be one seventh of the total health services budget. This money could have helped contribute to the care for thousands of future patients, but unfortunately is spent compensating patients who suffered from mistakes made by medical professionals. It is also estimated that almost a third of the pay-out for these claims were to cover just the legal fees alone.
Since 2011 internet searches of ‘medical negligence’ has increased dramatically. Last month the British public searched ‘medical negligence’ in Google over 3,600 times. It demonstrates the growing concern they have in the services provided by the NHS and shows that a lot of people are willing to take measures against it.
Gordon Dean, Norwich solicitors explain they have seen a rise in demand for people making claims for mistakes made by medical professionals. They believe that although it’s human nature to make mistakes if they damage the quality of somebody’s life they should be receive compensation. They have helped their clients over medical mistakes, these include: being prescribed the wrong medication, given an incorrect diagnosis, being given the wrong treatment or not being offered the required treatment, being treated without consent or not being warned about the side effects or risks from a treatment.
Working in the medical profession obviously requires a lot of responsibility; many doctors believe that they don’t get enough time with their patients. One GP explains that 10 minute consultations are unsafe and that if they lasted 15 minutes they could be more thorough and the patient would feel more cared for. Doctors sometimes find that during a booked appointment with a patient they will want to discuss more than one problem because they don’t go very often. Others think that the immense pressure and the huge workloads that they experience of a daily basis can help lead to mistakes. Doctors feel burned-out; they are always in high demand and work extremely long hours, so it’s catch 22 – quick consultations to see more patients or longer appointments and more hours. It’s clear some major changes need to be made to address this problem.
GPs have already altered the way they practise to help prevent legal action. A Pulse survey found that a massive 75% of practices have been altered due to fears of legal action from patients and 65% of GPs are more defensive in the way that they practice. This is when doctors order tests and treatments that help protect themselves rather the further the patient’s diagnosis, although this can offer peace of mind for the patient but can end up being a waste of time and money.
Unfortunately there’s no simple way that can help reduce the number of medical legal claims. Many people think that with the situation of the hospital in Staffordshire and the warnings from the MPS the medical professionals will start to implement change in the way they practice to avoid these mistakes from happening in the future.